HISTORY of the Bassa Script

Many people today are unaware of the genius of the African. Although they might admit to a complex verbal language structure, it may come as quite a surprise to many that African people have a multitude of written languages. In Liberia the Bassa people have a written script. The Kpelle, Gola, Lorma, Grebo, Vai and Kissi also are known to have their own written language. Most of these scripts have diminished over time, as a result of abandonment.

Had Hanibal visited Liberia in 500 B.C., particularly Kpowin(Tradetown) and Bassa Cove, he would have witnessed the Bassa script in use. The script is called Vah by the Bassas, which is translated to the phrase: To throw sign. Not to be confused with the Vai ethnic group, who also have their own written script as mentioned above. Vah was initially the throwing of sign or signals utilizing the natural environment. Teeth marks would be left on leaves and placed in a discrete location for the intended reader. Messages where also carved in the barks of trees. Eventually this evolved into a complex written language. During the era of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, many Bassas avoided slave traders by utilizing Vah(Bassa Script). During the colonial, and on through to the neo-colonial period in Africa, a decline in the usage of Vah script caused by external cultural forces, almost brought this written portion of the Bassa language to extinction.

Dr. Flo Darvin Lewis in the 1900s would re-discover the script in South America. Bassas that were sold into slavery now living in Brazil and the West Indies; kept the tradition of writing alive, passing it from generation to generation. Through his travels, Dr. Lewis was astonished to find out that he, being a Bassa himself, knew nothing of any such writing amongst his people back in Liberia. This discovery put Dr. Lewis on a determined path to learn, teach and revive the script in Liberia. Lewis attended Syracuse University and earned a doctorate in Chemistry, where he was known as the African Prince. Dr. Lewis returned to Liberia by way of Dresden, Germany where a company manufactured the first printing press for the Bassa alphabet. In Liberia, he established an institution for learning Vah. Among his students were, former Senator Edwin A. Morgan, Counselors Zacharia Roberts and Jacob Logan. Fear, mis-trust, sabotage and colonial thinking Liberians would lead to Dr. Lewis’ untimely death; leaving an open legacy yet to be completed.


The reviving of the Bassa Vah script continues to day with the efforts of the Bassa Vah Association, striving to expand the use of this African writing for the printing of newspapers, literature, science and religious text.